Tipping responsibly in Asia means supporting local businesses whilst still respecting and protecting their future – read on to learn how to tip it right!
Tipping when travelling in Asia has always been fraught with trepidation by those not used to the practice and it’s become even more of a conundrum in recent years. Is tipping a responsible travel practice in Asia? If yes, how much should you be tipping and how do you ensure that your tip is passed on to workers and not kept by management?
Here are 13 of our trusted tips for tipping when travelling in Asia:
- Tipping etiquette isn’t uniform in Asia – research each country individually
Although many travellers tend to group all Asian countries into the one basket – particularly when it comes to the south-eastern region – there are some differences that determine whether or not you should be tipping. In Japan and Singapore, for example, tipping is frowned upon and you’ll even find some hotels in countries where tipping is the norm, that discourage it. The key here is to research your specific destination before travelling and, once there, gain a local’s perspective. Hotel concierges and tour guides are priceless when it comes to local tipping know-how, especially as they also tend to be more in-tune with responsible tourism practices.
- ‘Do as the locals do’ isn’t always a good tip
Many travel advisors will urge you to be a fly on the wall when travelling just so you can see how locals behave, the idea being for you to emulate them. However, this doesn’t always work, especially as awareness of the need for responsible travel practices hasn’t yet reached every corner of Asia. Although a local may behave a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily beneficial (ie. you’ll still see plenty of local tourists riding elephants in Thailand but that doesn’t mean you should too, given you know better by now). Once Again, this is when it’s important to ask for advice from reputable tour guides and travel agencies – they will have the best interest of the locals at heart and are better at guiding you.
- Get the GlobeTips App
A lot of research has gone into the creation of the GlobeTips app, a superb resource that allows you to easily calculate the tip you should be paying depending on the country and services provided. Nothing beats personal advice from a local but we’ve found this app really is the next best thing.
- Whilst many countries share similar views on tipping, Singapore is an anomaly
Singapore has outlawed tipping in the international airport and sternly discourages it elsewhere, the idea being that when tipping is not expected, the quality of services remains consistently high. Elsewhere in Asia, tipping is not customary in local eateries and cafés although the fancier the place, the higher the tipping expectation. In 5* hotels and restaurants, tipping is as expected as it is almost anywhere in the world.
- How much should you pay for what?
Generally speaking, a tip of a couple of dollars (in local currency, preferably) will be appreciated by cleaning staff and porters in hotels, staff in wellness centres and spas and taxi drivers – although, with the latter, rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar is also fine. A private driver may appreciate 5USD equivalent for a full-day tour and your guide anywhere between 10 and 15 USD, per day.
- How do you ensure your tip goes to the intended person?
Restaurant tipping is usually between 5 and 10% of the bill although if you do want it to go to a specific waiter/waitress, you should discreetly hand it to them personally, in cash. Tips that are added to the bill and paid for with a credit card are almost never passed on to the staff, so that’s something worth remembering.
The fancier the place, the greater the tipping expectation
- Keep it relative and be responsible – don’t tip over 10%
In some case, a 10% tip may just come out to a dollar or so and although this may seem ridiculously insufficient, fight the urge to give more. The Singaporean credo has some merits in this regard: 10% is a respectful amount to tip, anywhere in the world, and given the cost of living is relatively low in Asia, you could be causing grievances between workers if you are over-generous. The only exception, of course, is if you have received exceptional service.
The argument against over-tipping is at the core of the responsible tourism practices in Asia, much like haggling in markets and not overpaying for goods and services, in general. Whilst an overtly generous payment of any kind seems innocuous (especially in inexpensive countries) it can actually lead to an unnatural increase in prices, all-round, that go beyond inflation. If tourists consistently overpay for goods and service, this is when a touristed hot-spot becomes too expensive for locals. Soon enough, you’ll see local stores disappear in favour of souvenir shops and residents booted out through high-pricing and houses replaced by hotels and guesthouses.
- Service charge included in the bill? You can ask for a refund if you aren’t satisfied
The practice of automatically adding a 10% service charge to the bill has taken over almost all high-end establishments in Asia although, unfortunately, the quality of service hasn’t increased as a result. If you are in a 5* hotel or restaurants and aren’t happy with the service you have received, you can ask for the service charge to be taken off the bill. As always, tipping should never be an obligation but rather a reward for great service.
- You can tip in USD bills in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam
We should pre-empt this by saying that tipping in the local currency is preferred, anywhere in the world and even more so in Asia, where the exchange rate for low denomination bills is much lower. Having said that, no-one will refuse a 1$ or 2$ bill so if you’re palling a whirlwind, multi-country tour of Asia and have pre-paid for transfers, tours and accommodation, do prepare a bundle of small notes to use as tips.
- There’s a whole art to the (unusual) art of tipping in Japan
Although tipping is not customary in Japan and is actually frowned upon in most cases, there are exceptions, mostly in high-end places and the tourism sector. Should you feel compelled to give a tip for outstanding service, don’t make the mistake of rolling a few dollar bills in your hand but, rather, place them in an envelope and hand them, with both hands, whilst offering a respectful bow.
- A quick overview of tipping etiquette, by country
Accepted with gratitude – Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia
Optional and not expected – Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines
Unnecessary and/or frowned upon – Singapore, Japan, Bhutan and Malaysia
- Tipping expectation can also vary depending on where YOU are from
Locals in Asia are just as informed as the rest of us, which is why a Thai national may not expect a tip from a Japanese tourist but, in Vietnam, a local may expect it from a European or North American tourist and accept it without taking offence. More than likely, you will be forgiven should you offer a tip in a country where it isn’t customary to give you. If you feel the urge to offer a tip, we think it is totally fine to do so.
- Just do what feels ‘right’
At the end of the day, we usually tip by gut-feeling in Asia, almost irrespective of etiquette which may or may not be updated. Generally speaking, the more contact the Asian country has had with foreigners, the more accepted the gesture although we find that in places where the daily wage is excruciatingly low (like Myanmar, for example) offering a tip to the porter who’s just lugged all our suitcases up five flights of stairs is totally warranted. Usually, the big bright smile tells us we’ve done the right thing. So, even though there may be 101 confusing rules as to how tipping in Asia works, you can also approach the practice with the same gut-feeling tactic.
For who wouldn’t appreciate a tip for a job well done?
GetAboutAsia offers bespoke itineraries and personalised tours and although we can offer fully-guided journeys, we think it’s important that all our guests feel at home when travelling in Asia and confident enough to also enjoy plenty of independent meanderings. See all our Asia Tour Itineraries and contact us to know more.